written by Jerry Zaabel

A few years back Trish and I decided to host a retreat for therapists who work with horses in their practice of healing people. As we brainstormed to come up with a theme we landed on “Inspire the Spirit. We felt that pretty much summed up the goal of our weeklong event. We ran the idea past a friend who owns a ranch where they work with troubled boys to assist families get back on track. He loved the theme. Since that (very successful) event, we have adopted “Inspire the Spirit” to be our goal in all we do here at the ranch. Both the horse and the rider/partner’s spirit come to life in a successful partnership.

In 2010, we were contacted by a woman who asked about riding lessons for her granddaughter. I explained what we do in the form of training, and she asked if we ever worked with children who have “special needs”. The answer came quickly as we have a daughter who has special needs. I explained how the “Spirit” of the horse works wonders with people who have special needs. I went on to tell the lady all about our daughter and how she thrives around horses. Then there came a moment of silence. It seemed to me as if my bragging had perhaps set her back a bit. As I waited for her to tell me about her granddaughter it almost sounded like she became choked up. I asked if I had said something that upset her. She quickly replied, “no not at all”. She went on to explain her 8-year-old granddaughter Sady, had an irreversible condition that would eventually take her life. She feared she did not have a lot of time left and her granddaughters dream was to ride a horse. We set up a ride for that weekend.

Saturday came and Trish and I were anxious to meet Sady (the 8-year-old granddaughter) and Sarah, her grandmother. They arrived right on time. Sady and Sarah were the first out of the car. Mom and Dad (Tom and Phillys) came with. We had Dakota, one of our wonderful, kid safe horses tied up to the hitching rail waiting. As we walked up to Dakota, Sady said, “be careful to let Dakota know you are you are behind him grandma. Horses can spook”. Sarah told us Sady had been reading about horses for years.

As Sady brushed Dakota, he seemed to act as if he knew her. He was very relaxed and even put his nose against Sady’s head in a sign of affection as she stroked his shoulder with the brush. I put the saddle on Dakota’s back, and we all walked to the round-pen where Sady’s Dad and I got her up in the saddle. She sat there for a moment, then bent over and hugged Dakota’s neck. He stood rock solid not moving a muscle. I was very proud of him.

Trish explained to Sady how to sit in the saddle and what to do with the reins, what woah meant and how to ask Dakota to move. As I walked next to Sady and Dakota, I noticed she was smiling from ear to ear. She was very weak so several times I had to push her back upright in the saddle as she slipped from one side to the other. At one point Sady started slipping to the right. Dakota moved quickly with his right foot to help her stay on his back. Trish and I both told Dakota what a good boy he was. Sady gave him another hug. Sady’s Grandma asked to pre purchase several additional lessons. Sadly, Sady never returned. Her condition worsened and she was unable to ride again. Approximately a month after we met Sady, she passed away.

Dakota lived for nearly 10 years after that day. He “inspired the spirit” of so many children and at the same time fulfilled their dreams. At age 28, he became very weak. He could barely stand anymore. One day, Trish came to me and said Dakota had told her it was his time. We called the vet, and that day Dakota went to Heaven.

Later that night as Trish and I spoke about Dakota, she reminded me of Sady and how he was able to make her horse dream come true. I said, yes, he truly inspired her spirit, and today he went to meet her again and give her the second ride Sarah promised her.

Over the years we have experienced so many miracles between horses and people, I have to say my spirit has truly been inspired hundreds of times and my soul fulfilled. Our logo has become our mission. To “Inspire the Spirit” of the horse and the person. Horses ask very little yet give so much.